Sex Talk for Muslim Women

May 6, 2016

By Mona Eltahawy

After I gave a reading in Britain last year, a woman stood in line as I signed books. When it was her turn, the woman, who said she was from a British Muslim family of Arab origin, knelt down to speak so that we were at eye level.

“I, too, am fed up with waiting to have sex,” she said, referring to the experience I had related in the reading. “I’m 32 and there’s no one I want to marry. How do I get over the fear that God will hate me if I have sex before marriage?”

I hear this a lot. My email inbox is jammed with messages from women who, like me, are of Middle Eastern and Muslim descent. They write to vent about how to “get rid of this burden of virginity,” or to ask about hymen reconstruction surgery if they’re planning to marry someone who doesn’t know their sexual history, or just to share their thoughts about sex.

Countless articles have been written on the sexual frustration of men in the Middle East — from the jihadi supposedly drawn to armed militancy by the promise of virgins in the afterlife to ordinary Arab men unable to afford marriage. Far fewer stories have given voice to the sexual frustration of women in the region or to an honest account of women’s sexual experiences, either within or outside marriage.

I am not a cleric, and I am not here to argue over what religion says about sex. I am an Egyptian, Muslim woman who waited until she was 29 to have sex and has been making up for lost time. My upbringing and faith taught me that I should abstain until I married. I obeyed this until I could not find anyone I wanted to marry and grew impatient. I have come to regret that it took my younger self so long to rebel and experience something that gives me so much pleasure.

We barely acknowledge the sexual straitjacket we force upon women. When it comes to women, especially Muslim women in the Middle East, the story seems to begin and end with the debate about the veil. Always the veil. As if we don’t exist unless it’s to express a position on the veil.

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3 comments on “Sex Talk for Muslim Women

  • My revolution has been to develop from a 29-year-old virgin to the 49-year-old woman who now declares, on any platform I get: It is I who own my body. Not the state, the mosque, the street or my family. And it is my right to have sex whenever, and with whomever, I choose.

    Powerful words from this article by this writer. These outspoken Muslim feminists are some of the bravest people I know.

    So many factors must come into place for her declaration above to become the societal norm in that part of the world. As she mentioned in the article, women need to be financially independent and educated as far as the possibly can be. They must appreciate their own value as strong good people based on their character and accomplishments, not on their virginal purity that is owed to her father and then her husband, a commodity to be bought and sold. They need to distance themselves from their oppressive archaic religions that blatantly seek to keep them tightly in reproductive and domestic bondage.

    I’m thinking about all of the changes that swirled around here in the States in the sixties and seventies that made it so easy for me to step right into her declaration in my own life then:

    It is I who own my body. Not the state, the mosque, the street or my family. And it is my right to have sex whenever, and with whomever, I choose.

    How did I do it when it’s so impossible for Muslim women to do so?

    It was the seventies. The pill was legalized here in 1960. Abortion was legalized here in 1973. The hippie counter culture was all around us in those days demanding changes in how men and women manage their relationships. Free love! Live in sin! Hang loose! Challenge authority! It all came together at just the right time in this place. The old stale model of virgin on your wedding night, the frilly white wedding dress walking down the aisle, given to the guy waiting at the altar by your dad walking next to you down that aisle went NOwhere with us then. The decades after that boring old story to be spent raising kids and cooking and cleaning all day, day after day were the worst thing I could think of.

    Once in college I was having lunch with my good friend when she leaned in and said to me, “We are SO lucky that we can have sex with whoever we want and there just aren’t ANY consequences for it!!” We laughed at that and I never forget that conversation. It was a magical time of complete freedom for young women. HIV was not on our radar and pregnancy was not an issue with birth control free and easy to get and abortions the same.

    How in the world will Muslim women get their own society to a tipping point where at least most of them can stand up and say “Of course I’m not a virgin! How is that any of your business! That’s MY business not YOURS!! I hope they can say that and not suffer the dire consequences that they suffer for that now.

    Mona, I’m really rooting for you. I’m just one American feminist but I’m really, really rooting for you all.

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  • It seems that Muslim women must be careful in some countries, if they check up on suspected philandering husbands!

    A woman in the United Arab Emirates has been fined and deported after being found guilty of breaching her husband’s privacy, reports say.

    Local media said the woman checked her husband’s mobile phone after becoming suspicious he was having an affair.

    The husband complained to the police and his wife was prosecuted under a cybercrime law, Gulf News reported.

    The unnamed woman – an Arab expatriate in the UAE – was fined 150,000 dirhams (£28,000; $41,000), the report said.

    She admitted to the court that she had accessed his phone without permission and transferred photos to her device, her lawyer told Gulf News.

    The lawyer, Eman Sabt, said the couple were in their 30s and of Arab origin, but gave no other information.

    I suppose it takes “faith-thinking” to believe this is a proportional response!

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  • I much prefer the medical definition by some doctors of the term “virgin.” A virgin is a woman who has never had a baby. That is the only definition that makes any sense.

    In addition, those males who desire a woman who has never had sex are STUPID and I mean very STUPID! The most desirable women are adults who have had experience and know what they are doing. They know how to avoid pregnancy and STD’s. Experienced women are the most sexy and are good partners in life. I would say the same is probably true for men.

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